DS4A Capstone Project Spotlight: Aspire to FIRE - How to Reach Financial Independence and Retire Early

In this blog series, we're proud to shine a light on some of the top Capstone projects from the first graduating class of Data Science for All / Empowerment.  Capstone projects are a critical component of the DS4A / Empowerment curriculum in which teams get together to work on projects that solve real-world data challenges faced by today’s leading companies and public sector organizations.

Meet the Team

Stacy Christopher

Data Science For All Empowerment Graduate:Christopher, Stacy

Stacy Christopher is a native New Yorker holding an MSPH in International Health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Stacy has spent the last five years monitoring and evaluating (M&E) health interventions in the U.S. and overseas; currently she supports M&E for NYC health department’s opioid overdose prevention programs. Stacy began learning to code as a way to keep busy during NYC’s first COVID-19 lockdown. Since then, she’s joined Correlation One’s DS4A program to build up her data analytics competencies in a supportive environment. She plans to leverage the skills and network she’s gained
from her DS4A experience to bring more rigor to her M&E work and explore other career paths.

Monsurat Olaosebikan

Data Science For All Empowerment Graduate:Olaosebikan, Monsurat

Monsurat Olaosebikan is a PhD candidate in Computer Science (CS) at Tufts University. Her current research lies at the intersection of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Data Science (DS) where she is investigating the design of immersive systems (AR/VR) for collaboratively exploring, analyzing, and annotating data. She received her BS in Mechanical Engineering at Northeastern University and interned at a 3D printing lab, an innovation lab, and a personal finance startup. Monsurat joined DS4A because she wanted to improve her data science skills, connect with other aspiring data scientists, and to work on a significant project. She plans to use what she learned from her DS4A experience to strengthen her own research and to continue improving her own skills in the CS/DS space.

Jelicia Ross

Data Science For All Empowerment Graduate:Ross,Jelicia

Jelicia Ross is a Business Strategist and Analytics Consultant holding a BA in Political Science from Howard University. With a background in advising senior leaders across the public, private, and non-profit sectors, she has developed a keen ability to scope, develop, deploy, and transition enterprise-level analytics tools and strategies that provide critical insights to her client stakeholders. Through her work, she developed a deep interest in understanding the intersections between data, policy and social justice, which led her to joining DS4A as a way to strengthen her competencies in data science and to build a diverse network of professionals working in data.

Jelicia plans to utilize the skills, lessons learned, and perspectives gained from her DS4A experience to inform her approaches to her own independent data science projects.

Nathália Santos

Santos, Nathalia - Headshot

Nathália Santos is an Academic Technologist at Barnard College holding a BA in Economics and Political Science from Bryn Mawr College. Through her profession, she has honed her ability to help professors and students integrate technology into their teaching and learning environments. While Nathália studied and began applying statistical methods in undergrad for academic research, she noticed a gap in her learning on the application of econometrics to wider contexts and joined Correlation One’s DS4A program to strengthen her skills and understand creative ways to apply them across the industry.

Nathália plans to utilize her DS4A training and project experience as the foundation for starting her own business leveraging data in the future. Nathália is also a Fundação Estudar Fellow and a Hanna Holborn Gray Fellow.

Fred Williams

Data Science For All Empowerment Graduate:Williams, Fred

Fred Williams is an Engineer at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). Throughout his tenure, he has rotated throughout various roles supporting the following areas of acquisition of DoD Weapons Systems: Logistics, Program Management, Test & Evaluation (T&E). Fred received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University as is currently pursuing his Masters in Engineering Management from Temple University. Fred joined the DS4A/Empowerment program because he was looking to gain formal training in data science. After the program, he plans to share his experience with others and help build the next generation of Minorities in STEM.


About the Project: Aspire to FIRE

Why did you choose this problem to solve?

With 28% of Americans reporting to have no emergency savings and an even more overwhelming 78% living to paycheck-to-paycheck, our project sought to solve two challenges: one, the lack of integrated resources on financial advising and retirement planning, and two, shifting the misconception that the ability to become financially independent/retire early (FIRE) is not practical for everyone.

Project Overview

DS4A Capstone Project_Datafolio_Team 38_Aspire to FIRE_imageDS4A Capstone Project_Presentation_Team 38_Aspire to FIRE_image

Check out the Aspire to FIRE tool on Tableau

What was the most exciting/surprising findings from your project? 

Going into the project, we generally thought that as individuals experienced increases in their income, that their saving patterns would follow suit. However, in our data we saw a very different correlation. As people made more money, they on average, didn’t attempt to save more in dollar value or even in percentage of their earnings (this was true for retirement and personal savings amounts). In fact, Americans on average are saving 7% less than the recommended value for retirement savings.

What were some challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

While building our tool, we struggled a bit to define and adapt a holistic formula for our FIRE projections. Our datasets restricted the variables we could include in the formula, and the process of cleansing/structuring the data in alignment with our overarching needs required more effort than expected. With the help of our TA David, we were able to efficiently troubleshoot errors in our code and define the limitations/assumptions that informed how our tool supports its end users.

Who is your team’s mentor and how did they help?

We were paired with two mentors - Divya Singhal and Tim “Fitz” Fitzgerald - both of whom have extensive experience in the Finance industry. They were invaluable in guiding our team through narrowing the scope of our project and challenging us to think critically about how our proposed tool would enable us to solve our issue of interest.

What do you view as the impact of your project?

Our project increases accessibility to practical financial advice for individuals who aspire to have autonomy over their financial future. While existing retirement calculators and budgeting tools may be sufficient in providing static recommendations on numerical savings amounts, they lack practicality in defining how to actually shift to this “new” budget. Our tool goes beyond by providing early retirement insights with example budgets from everyday people – these examples can guide our users in identifying what aspects of their own budgets they can adjust to get on track to FIRE. For future iterations we would like to collect more representative data of people's budgets, allow users to factor in their income and expenses changing over time and provide more targeted recommendations.